Sunday, November 20, 2011

Presbytery Vote - Part Three

“Are you not being hard on the Presbyterians? ” Someone challenged.

“Well, yes, I am.” I said. “You see, that my crowd. I have been a part of the Presbyterian family my whole life. I know the great works in which we are engaged and I know the benevolent and caring heart of the Presbyterian Church. That is why I am so baffled by this ‘blind spot’ when it comes to justice for the Palestinians. The issue is too serious to be side-stepped.”

When it came time to vote to support the Christian leaders of Israel/Palestine during the Presbytery meeting I attended, someone asked, “How can we vote for a people whose government, Hamas, trains kids to strap bombs on their bodies and walk into a crowd to kill people?” He was grossly concerned about the deaths caused by rockets and suicide bombers. After all, eleven Israelis were killed during the three years prior to Israel’s “deployment” from Gaza. However, he expressed no concern for the one thousand, two hundred-fifty Gazans, including two hundred twenty-two children, killed by the Israeli army during that same time.[1] Norman Finkelstein reports:

Hamas agreed to accept any peace agreement negotiated between the leaders of the PLO and Israel … Israel officials knew full well before they attacked Gaza that despite the charter a diplomatic settlement could have been reached with Hamas.”[2]

I agree with the speaker, suicide bombers and rockets are bad. They kill innocent people and that is always bad. Not only that, I don’t believe they work. For there to be peace between Israel and Palestine, both sides are going to have to compromise and reach across the table with forgiveness and respect. Suicide bombers are not going to bring down the IDF. Israel’s military is the fourth largest in the world. Suicide bombers and rockets will only make the average Israeli feel insecure. We don’t reach out with trust and respect as long as we feel insecure. Threaten me and I will trench in and come out swinging. I wish there were no bombs and rockets.

However, having said that, I can understand the frustration which drives a defenseless people, being mistreated and misrepresented for decades to strike out in any way they can. Why are we not asking, what is so bad that it would cause a young boy or girl to take their own life just to make a statement? We have one life to live. What drives these kids to sacrifice themselves?

Last week I quoted Philip Slater, as saying, “The Gaza Strip is little more than a large Israeli concentration camp, in which Palestinians are attacked at will, starved of food, fuel, energy – even deprived of hospital supplies.” He goes on to say, “It would be difficult to have any respect for them if they didn’t fire a few rockets back.”

I don’t think it is a matter of respect. It’s a matter of pain. Imagine yourself living in a refugee camp with no hope of ever gaining a better life, no matter what you do. After all, your parents have lived their entire life in these camps. They have never committed a crime, never been charged with a crime, never been to any court. They just happened to live in a village that was given to European Jews to be the State of Israel by the United Nations sixty two years ago. Bear in mind that the first suicide bombing was in 1994. That was 46 years after Israel destroyed 418 villages and drove 750,000 of your people into exile and 27 years after Israel again occupied your land and began treating you like an animal, and six weeks after Baruch Goldstein walked into a Mosque in Hebron and shot to death 29 of your neighbors as they prayed. During all this time, the world, including the church, said nothing. You are invisible and forgotten. How long before you would strike back?

Gideon Levy, award winning Israeli journalist, writes:

Nobody would have given any thought to the fate of the people of Gaza if they had not behaved violently. That is a bitter truth, but the first twenty years of the occupation passed quietly and we did not lift a finger to end it.[3]

Then when the Christian leaders of Palestine begged the church in the United States to at least become informed as to what is happening to them, our Presbytery voted 37 to 65 to ignore their plea. So, yes, I will try to continue to be “hard on us.” If we are to be the church, we must do better. It’s as much for our sake as for the Palestinians.

Rabbi Michael Lerner, in his magazine Tikkun, writes about “The Violence of Not Seeing.” Think about it.

Thomas Are
November 21, 2011

[1] Norman Finkelstein, This Tine We Went Too Far, (OR Books, 2011) p.26
[2] Ibid., p. 45
[3] Gideon Levy, The Punishment of Gaza, (Verso, New York, 2010) p.21.

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